I was in high school when Back to the Future II came out in 1989. I vividly remember watching the film’s version of 2015, where flying cars and hoverboards were standard modes of transportation and recreational drones could walk the family dog. That was one of the first clues I had as to how artificial intelligence (AI) could have a real and meaningful impact on our day-to-day lives.
Well, 2015 has come and gone, and we still don’t have much of the technology that Back to the Future dreamed up (I’m still holding out for my own airborne car) – though a few predictions have come true: Videoconferencing, flat-screen TVs and digital fingerprinting are now ubiquitous. However, what I’m struck by now, recalling this movie almost three decades after its release, is the creators’ ability to predict how the world would change with technology advancements. What they couldn’t envision was a world where we’d have technology constantly at our fingertips via smartphones – and they certainly didn’t foresee the impact AI could have when it comes to health care.
There’s a lot of talk around AI and machine learning, as though these are brand-new leaps in intelligence. The truth is that intelligence has been with us for a very long time: Since the 1980s, where early video games like Pac-Man incorporated AI for its maze patterns, and since 1994, when automated smart cars were first developed. Today, we can find intelligence everywhere: Our credit card companies alert us when a suspicious purchase is made on our account; smart home devices learn the nuances of our behaviors and adapt to our patterns; and, somewhat eerily, retailers are deploying algorithms to predict our purchases.
My point is: Intelligence, while still in its growth phase in terms of what it can do and where it can take health IT, is not wholly new to our world – nor is it a mystical, science fiction-worthy key to the health care industry. The full potential of AI is yet to be understood or realized. What’s exciting about today’s buzz around intelligence is that, right now, the industry has the computing power to make significant strides in the field. Huge investments are being made by leading health care and technology companies to explore AI’s possibilities. According to a recent study, approximately 35 percent of health care organizations will be using AI by 2019; by 2022, more than 50 percent will have AI technologies in place. Positions in machine learning engineering are among the hottest emerging careers.
The essence of intelligent technology – including AI and machine learning – is that it continuously learns from the data it collects. Today, in hospitals and health care systems around the globe, early practical applications of intelligence are leading to breakthroughs in early detection of chronic conditions, clinical decision support, cybersecurity and radiology, just to name a few. The implications for both patient outcomes and organizational efficiency are huge: According to one analysis, AI has the potential to improve health care outcomes by as much as 40 percent while reducing the care costs by 50 percent.
Fresh perspectives on health care intelligence
Health care has finally entered the era of the patient – and it’s about time. The consumerization of health care is, in part, what is propelling intelligence forward right now – and I couldn’t be more excited about that.
In the new issue of Perspectives, we hear from thought leaders from across the health care industry as they share their insights on intelligence. Matt Wood from Amazon Web Services shares his views on the machine learning renaissance and how intelligence can empower clinicians to spend more time with patients and less time with their keyboards. Darinda Reberry, president and CEO at Western Missouri Medical Center, discusses how computerized algorithms – like the St. John Sepsis Agent – can provide organizations with valuable, life-saving patient data. At Palmetto Health Quality Collaborative, we learn from CEO William C. Gerard what integrating algorithms with prescription data directly into the EHR can do to combat the opioid crisis.
These articles and more shed light on some of the ways intelligence is being used in health care today. Unlike Marty McFly and Doc Brown, we’re well positioned to see how AI can have a real impact on health care in our lifetime: It’s already being used in real clinical settings to improve patient care. And even though we’re at the tip of the intelligence iceberg, as consumers of health care, we should all be inspired.
In today's rapidly changing health care landscape, it's important to be up-to-date on technological advances, current legislation and fundamental shifts in care delivery. Download Cerner's Perspectives for exclusive content from leaders in health care.